Bursary Reports 2019


Chen Xie

Masters student, University of Oxford

Workshop: From Text to Tech

I was very delighted to partake in the 2019 Digital Humanities Summer School, and it was a privilege to be one of the bursary holders. I am a linguistic student interested in syntax. Early Chomskyan syntax attached great importance to native speakers’ intuition, but gradually syntacticians found that intuitions might vary and grammatical judgement
was often inconsistent. As one of my professors put it, “we are at the end of an era when linguists could gather data about a topic just by thinking up a few sentences and judging the sentences themselves, or asking a few friends to judge them.” That is why we need technology to assist linguistic analyses, and it is also the reason why I wanted to participate in this summer school.

The workshop I attended was “From Text to Tech”, which focused on how to use Python to analyse texts. The topics, including text processing with Python, corpus linguistics, and natural language processing, ranged from basic introductions to state-of-the-art tools in digital humanities. Both laymen of Python and experienced programmers
would learn a lot from the lectures. For example, Gard Jenset, one of the convenors, shared his research on the dative alternation in spoken British English. Through the parsing of the data, it was found that men and women had different preferences for the ditransitive constructions. This pattern had long been ignored by linguists, and its discovery would not have been possible without the aid of computational techniques.

This example manifests the advantages of corpus research, and moreover, the importance of incorporating modern technology into humanities.

Another wonderful experience from the summer school was that we were surrounded by scholars with various research interests from all over the world. The questions they asked often led to inspiring discussions, and a brief conversation with them could be full of eye openers. There was therefore a good chance to find a potential collaborator for future research.

Lastly, I would like to express my gratitude to our convenors, Mariona Coll Ardanuy, Barbara McGillivray, and Gard Jenset. Their remarkable academic excellence and occasional humour made the lectures fascinating and thought-provoking.

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